Heads Of State – Four In One – Smoke Sessions Records SSR_1702, 72:21 ****:

Great jazz by all-stars!

(Garry Bartz – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Larry Willis – piano; David Williams – double bass; Al Foster – drums)

Heads Of State boasts four stellar jazz instrumentalists with dexterity and flair. On their follow up to the critically acclaimed debut, Search For Peace ( a tribute to McCoy Tyner), the quartet seems prepared to enhance their repertoire with a vibrant collection of original compositions (in democratic fashion, each member contributes a song) and covers of jazz legends. Four In One showcases internal cohesion and individual technical artistry. The opening title cut is a classic take on Thelonious Monk. Bartz opens on alto saxophone mixing trilling notation and fluid leads. At 2:45, Larry Willis takes over on piano. His intricate phrasing (and subtle tempo variations) and medium swing is a perfect complement. Double bassist David Williams also solos and drummer Al Foster exchanges with Bartz later.

On the first new composition, “And He Called Himself A Messenger” (Bartz), the group builds grooves and melody interaction. In re-inventing jazz masters, the jams manage to capture the moods and inherent soul of the composers. As the Wayne Shorter’s mystical, “Dance Cadaverous” (at 10:02, the longest cut on the album) unfurls, Willis and Bartz approach their expanded instrumentals  with melodic and tempo creativity. Hitting some bebop flair (on Charlie Parker’s “Moose The Mooche”), Bartz takes first lead (with occasional low-register play) as Foster keeps a hard-driving cadence. All of the syncopated timing and melodic improvisation lift this cover, Willis attacks his solo with gritty rhythmic fervor.

Each arrangement is unique and captures the mood of the composer. Foster’s original “Aloysius” kicks off with a deft solo by the drummer. Then it’s off to the land of Latin-infused swing as Bartz and Willis hit their respective strides. Willis’ “The Day You Said Goodbye” (credited in the liner notes as inspired by Michel Legrand) evokes the melancholy and romanticism of a film noir. But the ensemble shines on the cool era Jon Lewis number, “Milestones”. The finger-snapping traditional swing fest is sprightly and propels the innate proficiencies of the Heads Of State. David Williams offers complex and interesting transitions on his original, “Keep The Master In Mind”. Then the heavyweight composers come into play. “Someone To Watch Over Me” may be the most common Gershwin jazz cover. Here, Bartz initiates a jazzy intro that takes its time in exploring some of the original melodic structures. Willis’ piano is exquisite. The band folds itself around the saxophone lead. Transitioning once again to grittier aesthetics, Miles Davis’ Sippin’ At Bells” is concise (under four minutes) and is nothing short of sophisticated urban jazz. Bartz wails and Wills dials up the percolating dynamics as Foster knocks off a brilliant drum solo. The finale (Eddie Harris’ momentous “Freedom Jazz Dance”, famously recorded by Miles Davis) is precise and reminiscent of the soul jazz explosion the 60’s. The quartet brandishes a number of grooves and vamps on the way to a joyous romp.

Heads Of State has been described as venerable, post-bop or even “golden agers”. Four In One is a definitive statement that this is a vital jazz entity with their own special vision.

Four In One
And He Called himself A Messenger
Dance Cadaverous
Moose The Mooche
The Day You Said Goodbye; Milestones
Keep The Master In Mind
Someone To Watch Over Me
Sippin’ At Bells; Freedom Jazz Dance

-Robbie Gerson